Years ago, when I was back in Washington for a couple of years, writing a series for public television, I lived for a while on Capitol Hill, a couple of blocks behind the Supreme Court. In the morning when I went to work, I would walk to a nearby Metro subway station, look at the Capitol dome and sometimes stare across the Potomac to Virginia.
During the Civil War, I’d think, the Confederacy was right there, just a mile or two away. So close, and yet they were never able to carry their flag onto Capitol Hill until this January 6, when rioters assailed the seat of government, some of them carrying the Stars and Bars, the banner of the Confederate States of America. Five were killed.
Now the US Senate is about to try former President Donald Trump once again, this time on a single act of impeachment for inciting that riot—a vain attempt to overturn the results of the fair and honest election that rejected Trump for a second term of office. Despite the evidence, and just as they did a year ago, almost all the Republicans in the Senate will vote to acquit their corrupt and feckless leader.
That’s because in an echo of Dixie, they have adapted a new version of their “Southern strategy,” that tactic dating back to 1968, when Republicans discovered that by blowing dog whistles of white supremacy and bigotry, they could flip some of those states of the former Confederacy over to Richard Nixon, then Ronald Reagan, Bush father and son and yes, Donald Trump.
The new version is slightly different. In this one, they don’t imitate the old white segregationist politicians like George Wallace, Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms. No, now they act like those all-white juries of the deep South in the fifties and sixties that would, time after time—and despite all the evidence—find the murderers and rapists of innocent black men and women not guilty. Watch as they do it again on behalf of their mad dog savior Donald Trump. The overwhelming facts mean nothing when getting back their death grip on power and control is at stake.
As you know, this attitude of ignoring or distorting reality permeates right-wing media as well. Tuesday night, the cremated remains of Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick, murdered at the age of 42 during that January 6 mob riot, were brought up the Capitol steps and into the rotunda to rest in honor.
CNN covered the somber ceremony live. So did MSNBC. Fox News did not. Over there, after a blitzkrieg of commercials, Sean Hannity was acting out his usual extremist nonsense, ranting about “the People’s Republic of Los Angeles” and “the People’s Republic of New York,” among other falsehoods.
A few minutes later, President and First Lady Biden arrived at the rotunda to pay their respects. MSNBC and CNN were there. On Fox, Laura Ingraham briefly acknowledged the Bidens’ presence but spent most of her airtime not honoring the slain policeman but trashing Dr. Anthony Fauci and beginning a story about homicides in Chicago with the phrase, “The BLM-fueled crime wave…” Black Lives Matter, you see, is just one more manifestation of the imaginary socialist plot to take over America. No wonder their viewers think the world’s aflame, a cynical awful place where progressives plotting evil lurk at every corner pizzeria.
By the way, Officer Sicknick, a 12-year veteran of the force, was a Trump voter in 2016, although The Washington Post reports, “Those who encountered Sicknick said his political views did not align neatly with one political party.” He was against impeachment but supported gun control.
There hasn’t been an official explanation yet as to exactly how Sicknick died but he was attacked and killed while resisting the crazed crowd brainwashed by Trump. They were lied to by him and other Republicans, conspiratorial right-wing media like Fox, OAN and Newsmax and alt-right social media. They fell for the phony scenario brewing for weeks that Joe Biden had stolen the election and that a violent uprising would change the results. They sought to hang Vice President Pence, shoot House Speaker Pelosi and bodily harm other members of the House and Senate, including New York Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib.
But now, as the Senate prepares for Trump’s second impeachment trial next week, too many Republicans continue pretending January 6 never happened, that the slate should be wiped clean and history rewritten. Time to move on, they say. In fact, just a couple of hours after all of their lives were in serious jeopardy, six Republican senators still refused to certify the vote of the Electoral College that gave the presidency to Biden. And a week later, when the House passed its single article of impeachment charging Trump with inciting the 1/6 insurrection, all but ten of the GOP members voted against it and many Republican senators declared the whole thing unconstitutional.
If those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, Republicans and their allies covering it up and trying to erase the memory are prideful cowards condemned to seeing their once Grand Old Party dissolve into a mud puddle of mendacity, conspiracy fantasies, hatred and fear. What’s left of what once was a past distinguished by occasional acts of bravery, grace and tolerance has become a toxic sludge of fascism and intolerance, much of it because they are afraid of one man, a blustering fool who no longer holds office but retains great cult-like control of their party.
“History will tell lies, sir, as usual.” So says British General “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne in George Bernard Shaw’s “The Devil’s Disciple” as he rides off to what he knows will be an ignominious defeat in Saratoga at the hands of American patriots. But what we’re observing now goes beyond prevarication or the boastful exaggerations of victors and lamentations of the losers; this is a twisting of facts and the concocting of false narratives that in other times would have been derided and dismissed as the cheap fakery it is.
Republicans have slid so far down the memory hole of Orwell’s 1984 they have to reach up to touch bottom. They throw authenticity down into the hole’s incinerator flames and create a new reality that’s fictitious but which serves the needs of those who lust for power and control over all else. “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake,” Winston, the protagonist of 1984, is told. “We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing.”
And so you have House minority leader Kevin McCarthy accepting QAnon fanatic, now-Representative Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia and denouncing her exclusion from committee assignments, despite her theories of Jewish space lasers, political assassination, 9/11 truthers and mass shootings as false flag operations. Nutty as those beliefs are (and on Thursday, she disingenuously tried to back away from them a bit), they confer influence because Trump likes her, she raises a ton of campaign cash and her followers—part of Trump’s base—are urged by her to think these theories are the only explanation for their difficult lives. That, and the existence of people of color, of course.
Reducio ad absurdum. These days, the GOP even welcomes such facetious and absurd silliness as Eric Trump telling Hannity that there “has never been a more beloved political figure in our country’s history” than his dad. Because that works for them, too (By the way, Eric said this during that time Tuesday when Hannity was ignoring the arrival of Officer Sicknick’s remains at the Capitol. So much for Blue Lives Matter).
Meanwhile, the rest of us are supposed to buy into the GOP’s big con because, you know, unity. Every time truths are spoken that Republicans don’t like, they claim that it’s for sure dividing the country further.
So brazen are the attempts at manipulation of truth whether present or past, that in the last months of his term, President Trump and his sycophantic crew appointed a Presidential Advisory 1776 Committee, charged with creating “a definitive chronicle of the American founding.” The report partly was a response to The New York Times’ award-winning 1619 Project, charting the history of slavery in the United States and our continuing record of racial discrimination.
With little regard for the facts and not a single professional historian on the panel (but with plenty of conservative activists and educators), and with time quickly running out for the Trump White House, it was decided to release their findings on the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday, months before the report was supposed to be completed and just two days before the Biden inauguration—timing that was either a stroke of haste, pure ignorance or malign spite—you make the call.
In any case, much of what the commission had to say was lost in the shuffle of last-minute Trump pardons and inauguration news but as per Sarah Ruiz-Grossman at The Huffington Post:
The 45-page report reads in places like a right-wing manifesto: It makes excuses for slavery and the Three-fifths Compromise that declared slaves counted as less than full humans. It decries socialism and “identity politics,” celebrates the right to bear arms and calls the anti-abortion movement one of the nation’s “great reforms…”
“The Trump commission’s report also rails against socialism as leading people down a “dangerous path” of wealth redistribution and cites ‘”anti-Communism” and “the Pro-Life Movement”— or anti-abortion movement — as some of the “great reforms” of the country’s history.”
The report compares progressivism to fascism, seeking to “centralize power under the management of so-called experts.” There are twice as many references to Christianity as of racism, no footnotes or citations, and not a single mention of Indigenous people, especially not the notion that upon our arrival, ninety percent of them quickly were wiped out by disease, murder, forced relocation, and other assorted territorial encroachments.
Many wondered what President Biden would do with the report. It didn’t take long to find out. Within minutes of his swearing-in, an executive order wiped out the 1776 Committee. And shortly after, all evidence of its existence, including the panel’s preposterous report, was removed from the White House website.
Via his Department of Education, the new president should lead an effort figuring out how to restore civics classes and revive the history curriculum that once taught young Americans how to be thoughtful, participating citizens by learning their past. This also should help them develop the kind of critical thinking that, when presented with the facts, responds with skepticism and debate but not in the belief of every crackpot version of reality that beckons to them from their televisions, radios and laptops. As we’ve seen, such an alternative truth—the real fake news as it were—can only lead to the violent end of American democracy.
For a party that used to preach responsibility and reason, the Republicans have devolved into an asylum for the proponents and hangers on of screwball revisionism fraudulent theories and the vicious overthrow of government. Don’t know much about history but I do know that if the GOP have their way there will be little room for rational solutions that can help us. The angry braying mob has little use for those answers, but an embrace of practicality at every level of legislative action that leads to tangible progress could peel some of them away. Otherwise, we may be heading into more dark days echoing the fearsome years when our Capitol stood so close to enemy forces just across the river.
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Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer for Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship.